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The Big Idea: Kat Howard

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 10/06/2017 - 08:59
For An Unkindness of Magicians, author Kat Howard decided to go about things… well, just a little differently. She’s here to tell you why doing it that way made sense for her novel. KAT HOWARD: This is a book that began with an ending. Not the ending of the book–No, that took me a number […]

The Big Idea: Walter Jon Williams

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Thu, 10/05/2017 - 10:42
You can’t judge a book by its cover, but a cover can still tell you a lot about a book. When I saw the Quillifer cover, I felt like I already knew more than a little bit about Walter Jon Williams‘ titular character. In his Big Idea, Williams confirms my suspicions. Read on to find out who […]

A Brief Addendum to “Word Counts and Writing Process”

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Wed, 10/04/2017 - 22:15
Done up in Twitter form, and archived here for posterity. 1. I have some people snarking at my piece about the writing in the Trump era by noting (say) Solzhenitsyn managing to write in Russia… — John Scalzi (@scalzi) October 5, 2017 2. The argument there, presumably, being that if he could do it, I […]

Transparency and Privacy: what we need, want and do not understand

Contrary Brin - Wed, 10/04/2017 - 11:50
Brett Horvath and Berit Anderson at SCOUT raise an important point about Apple’s new face recognition phone tool. “Face ID isn’t just about identity. It’s about mind-reading.” Brett is concerned about the possible combination of a) machine vision and predictive algorithms, b) micro expressions, and c) ubiquitous surveillance, which would allow oppressive regimes and bad actors not only to monitor the movement of dissident populations, but to actively read their emotions and predict behavior. “Now Apple is about to ship this technology stack to the world in what could be the most popular smartphone in history.”
Of course this only extends the lesson I taught in The Transparent Society. We will not preserve freedom by hiding. Nor will it ever be possible to conceal info from elites. Moreover, that is not how we got the freedom that we already have,
We will remain free by aggressively applying these tools upon all elites.  It is the only way we ever got freedom and it is the only way we can retain it.

Why, oh why, is this concept so incredibly hard for very bright people to grasp? I know some very high IQ individuals -- people who can clearly see that our brief, Periclean renaissance is in terrible danger of tumbling into an old-fashioned despotism, empowered by new technologies of control. In conversation -- or after reading The Transparent Society -- they claim to grasp the concept of reciprocal accountability and sousveillance...  the application of light upward at all elites and authorities. But then...?

Then, the very next time that they confront the latest modern information crisis of surveillance, or leaks or hacks or state or corporate control, their sole reflex is to prescribe vague and impossible refuge in hiding.

It cannot work. It never has. It never will. It is cowardly, too! But there's a method that does work. We see it in action, every single day... if we just open our eyes. And look.

== Withstanding and overcoming a toxin ==
Well, well. I’ve done many interviews but I never thought I’d be in FASHION Magazine! The article is serious though, about how we — as individuals, nation and species — are all-too easily poisoned by the addictive drug of self-righteous indignation. The writer brought in a number of interesting perspectives I had not seen or considered, till now.  I like it when that happens!
But do go to the source… my original call for research into indignation addiction, which was republished in Barbara Oakley’s tome Pathological Altruism.
This is a poison that can be especially ruinous in times like ours, when cynical oligarchs are deliberately raking coals to get us all riled up. 

Yes! There’s plenty to be angry about. But that has almost nothing to do with the thing we must seek calmly and rationally. Victory.

== Hold on to our vital victories ==
Danger, danger. The most important civil liberties advance in the 21st Century so far was when the Obama Administration joined multiple courts in declaring a citizen may record the police. I wrote about this in The Transparent Society(1997; see p.160) and how vital it is that we can exercise sousveillance at the level of the street, where power can most-directly affect us. 

Now: "In a free speech ruling that contradicts six other federal circuit courts, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld a district court ruling that says Americans do not have a first amendment right to videotape the police, or any public official, in public."

Sure enough, in a deep-red state, this principle is under attack. Only... I blame the good side lawyers! They base their arguments for sousveillance on the First Amendment and sometimes the Fifth... when it is in fact the under-appreciated SIXTH Amendment that most clearly safeguards the citizen from true abuse of power, by granting us the power to compel revelation of facts in our own defense, allowing us recourse to the ultimate defense...

...the Truth.
Ah, but did breathless news reports exaggerate?  Robert Shore: "I have now read both the District Court's decision and the Eighth Circuit opinion affirming the District Court. Neither says what the article claims. The closest approach is a statement that the general public doesn't have a constitutional right to film citizens in the lobby of a police station, and that's a far cry from ruling that citizens can't film police stops executed in public. There's just no substitute for primary sources."
I hope so. Better that Brin be wrong in a “Danger!” alert.
== Doing is more important than knowing ==
You Are The Product: A good, long read by John Lanchester: "Facebook, in fact, is the biggest surveillance-based enterprise in the history of mankind. It knows far, far more bout you than the most intrusive government has ever known about its citizens." 
Yes, and worrisome and I am glad that these facts are being revealed and chewed on, by the public.  Only note THAT these revelations and discussions are happening. And second always remember that something matters far more than what others knowabout you.  

What matters far more is what they might do to you!  

To control the latter, it is futile trying to stop others from seeing. Show us one time when that ever worked for long. Ever. Once. 

What will make a difference is making sure that wesee everything about them.

== Worries & Concerns ==
Yipe, it turns out that speech-recognition devices can understand and obey commands given at completely ultrasonic frequencies. You may not be able to hear someone hijacking your cellphone, computer, or home automation system, but they can.
 China doubles down on anonymity: “According to China’s new regulations, Internet companies and service providers are responsible for requesting and verifying real names from users when they register and must immediately report illegal content to the authorities…. Furthermore, a new cybersecurity law that went into effect at the beginning of June requires tech companies to store important data on servers within China. While this is supposedly meant to protect sensitive information, it can also make it easier for the government to track and persecute Internet users.”

Jennifer Jacquet, assistant professor at New York University and author of the newly released -- Is Shame Necessary? New Uses for an Old Tool -- explores issues of guilt, conscience, and conformity, proposing that we need new ground rules when it comes to public shaming, particularly in a new age of ubiquitous, and volatile, social media.
. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/ (site feed URL: http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/atom.xml)

The Big Idea: David Walton

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Wed, 10/04/2017 - 10:58
You want thrown gauntlets? David Walton throws one in the first sentence of this Big Idea piece for this novel, The Genius Plague. Read on to see it, and whether you agree. DAVID WALTON: Zombie books just aren’t creepy enough. They’re exciting, don’t get me wrong. When some drooling dead guy is breaking down your […]

Amish on the Highway

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Wed, 10/04/2017 - 10:33
I often joke to people that in Bradford, where I live, a traffic jam is three cars behind an Amish buggy. It’s not actually a joke; when you see a line of cars going five miles an hour, you know there’s a buggy up on the front of that line. It is not actually a […]

The Big Idea: Nick Mamatas

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 10/03/2017 - 09:33
Drinking and writing: Two activities that have gone together famously (and occasionally, infamously) over the years. Now here’s Nick Mamatas, co-editor of Mixed Up: Cocktail Recipes (and Flash Fiction) for the Discerning Drinker (and Reader), to add a twist to this celebrated concoction. Yes, I just made a pun. No, I’m not sorry. NICK MAMATAS: […]

2017, Word Counts and Writing Process

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Mon, 10/02/2017 - 22:01
Today I wrote 1,850 words on Head On, my novel which is coming out next year. In any year previous to 2017, 1,850 words from me in a single day would be an okay day — slightly below my general average of 2,000 or so that I can reliably pump out on a daily basis, […]

RIP Tom Petty

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Mon, 10/02/2017 - 17:13
This was the song that made me a Tom Petty fan and got me to buy my first album from him and the Heartbreakers. He’s gone now but leaves a hell of a fine musical legacy. Go listen to it.

Emergency Pet Pictures Deployed

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Mon, 10/02/2017 - 09:01
Because here in the US, it’s a day for them. Because today is a day when we will here about thoughts and prayers being offered, here are my thoughts on thoughts and prayers, from July 2016, in the aftermath of an event all too much like the event we’re dealing with today.

World-saving solutions and inspirations... and what's really in that tax bill

Contrary Brin - Sat, 09/30/2017 - 15:08
== Problem solving solutions ==
Contests to save the world? The MacArthur Foundation recently closed a competition called "100 & Change," which asks for proposals targeting specific problems on Earth. 

And now a new competition from the Global Challenges Foundation is calling for solutions to the world's most pressing problems, like conflict, climate change and extreme poverty. Registration for "A New Shape" is open until March 31 and proposals are due by September 30.
The simple-minded genetic determinism of ignorant white nationalists is backfiring on them. They are getting genetic tests to prove how Caucasian they are, and very few of them are getting the results they expect. Anthropologist Raymond Firth wrote a long time ago that whenever two populations meet, they may or may not bleed, but they will most certainly breed.
This raises a potentially effective – and hilarious – way to combat these groups.  Show up at their rallies and hand out coupons for 23 & Me or Ancestry.com…or some cheaper site… to get their haplotype inheritance markers tested.  At minimum, you’ll roil their pot, isolating the extreme racial purists and getting them acting hateful to many of their own recruits!  Even better, some of the marchers may get drawn toward both science and acceptance of complexity, plus identification with more than one simplistic (and actually nonexistent) “European” stock.  Heck, talk those Silicon Valley types into doing this in a test somewhere, then fund giving spit kits away at every rally!
== What the "Tax Bill" really is about ==
Gliding onward from "repeal and replace," now it's taxes. An architect of Republican Supply Side Economics reveals that he is sapient by admitting that evidence should change one’s mind. And evidence shows that Supply Side has always bee utter voodoo. Tax cuts for the rich have never - not once, ever- had any of the stimulative effects promised. And the Clinton tax increases led directly to the best growth since the 1970s.  Wealth transfers to the aristocracy are not invested in R&D or productive “supply” capacity - but instead inflate asset bubbles. Are you similarly sapient? Is your mad uncle?  “I helped create the GOP tax myth. Trump is wrong: Tax cuts don’t equal growth.”
Moreover, GOP tax cuts always led to skyrocketing deficits. So, where are all the budget balancers and deficit hawks now?  See where I prove that (surprise!) it is always Democrats who are more fiscally responsible. What? You prefer your comfy cliches over actual evidence?
But let's be clear. Sure, every line of the new "tax bill" will benefit Trump and his fellow oligarchs, above all. Yes, Hedge funds and lawyers get a special tax break. And other travesties. And your mad uncle who thinks these are ‘populists” is truly a jibbering, confederate loony. But the top goal of all Republicans, across every divide, has been to cancel out the Estate Tax… they call it the “Death Tax.” 
They know they’ll have to back off on some of their proposed middle class rapes and gifts to oligarchy, but that one will probably slip through, and there’s nothing more evil.  And it will slip through because half our neighbors have let themselves be suckered into fights over symbolism, like confederate statues, kneeling football players, and whether a “fence” can be upgraded into a “wall."
== Staunching the worst ==
Two bills introduced in August are designed to safeguard the independent prosecutor, whose investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election has roused Trump's public and private frustration. Sens. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) and Chris Coons (D-Del.) have proposed allowing a special counsel to contest any termination after the fact, while another bill from Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) would require the Justice Department to seek judicial approval before any firing.
How silly!  Oh, sure, I am glad DP & GOP senators are recognizing the need to send DTrump a signal to leave the Mueller investigation alone. But in a BILL?  Where will you find the nineteen GOP senators willing to help 48 democrats to over-ride Trump’s inevitable veto?

As it happens, the Constitution has a provision that would let Congress - by simple majority - appoint an “other body” under the 25th Amendment that could do two things (1) make strong (though perhaps sub-binding) rulings about the President’s power to evade justice, and (2) issue - in conjunction with the Vice President, a temporary removal of presidential power. Elsewhere, I explain how this works.
== Art Inspires the Awakening of Our Union ==
With his new site, Woke Giant, Patrick Farley, the brilliant artist who did my Existence trailer and “Spiders” and First Word and so many other fantastic web comics, has been putting out incredible, moving posters to help inspire, as America wakes up again to the resurgence of confederate treason.
Meanwhlie... Blackwater's founder - Erik Prince - offers a plan to privatize the war in Afghanistan.  Charging us just a few tens of billions/year and removing lawful supervision of conduct. In effect: "Let me handle things; just go back to your soaps and video games."  All right, that's my paraphrasing.  But no person - not even Rupert Murdoch - so personifies that effort, to shift America from an open-accountable and fact-using republic to an empire-oligarchy complete with mercenary armies, bread&circuses, a shift that the Romans went through with Caesar, and that Orson Scott Card extolled in his novel EMPIRE. (Indeed, a power transfer to unaccountable demigods that Card pushes in every single tale that he writes.) Watch for the other shoe to drop. Trump hinted that Afghanistan would have to start handing over mineral and other wealth (poppies?) presumably to Trump-Murdoch-Cheney connected companies.
Our parents in the Greatest Generation faced similar choices, as did their forebears in 1918, the 1870s and earlier.  For good reason (they knew more about this danger) they chose their favorite living human: Franklin Delano Roosevelt, instead of such monsters.
And monsters rise again... see Farley's image: You again? Stop the "Alt-Right" subtitled, "We beat 'em before. We'll beat 'em now." Though I would have given the loony-hateful romantics torches. Tiki torches. Tiki torches, fools? The fact-users that you hate got us to the Moon and Mars and Jupiter and Pluto, and are developing fusion power. You've chosen to wage war on all the folks who know stuff. How do you think that's going to turn out?
And while we’re on the power of art…
Don't Be a Sucker! is a short educational film produced by the U.S. War Department in 1943 and re-released in 1947. The film depicts the rise of Nazism in Germany and warns Americans against repeating the mistakes of intolerance made in Nazi Germany. It emphasizes that Americans will lose their country if they let themselves be turned into "suckers" by the forces of fanaticism and hatred. The film was made to make the case for the desegregation of the United States armed forces by simply revealing the connection between prejudice and fascism.
== political miscellany ==
This missive on Huffpost: “Why Democrats Could Consider Registering Republican To Stop Trump” is a dumb version of my own earlier suggestion. Indeed, is it time to reconsider a mass migration of blacks and other minorities to Mississippi or Alabama? They are already almost 40%! Hey Amazon, set up shop there.
I could not care less about Louise Linton (Mrs. Secretary Mnuchin) and her tiff on Instagram.  Yes, she came across as a spoiled brat… though if you read her posting, I deemed it non-heinous. Bratty, but not as bad as reports.  No, what IS interesting is how this author on the NPR website-blog uses the non-event to riff onto “marginal disutility” in tax rates and to teach some interesting aspects about progressive taxation systems.
== Reflections ==
“He broke America.” No man has done more in recent years to undermine the functioning of U.S. government. His has been the epitome of unprincipled leadership, the triumph of tactics in service of short-term power.’  Donald Trump?  No. Look who.
“For as wealth is power, so all power will infallibly draw wealth to itself by some means or other.”    – Edmund Burke (1780)
“Of great riches there is no real use, except it be in the distribution.”      – Francis Bacon (De Dignitate et Augmentis Scientiarum, 1623)
“That mankind as a whole shall become richer does not, of necessity involve an increase in human welfare.       – John Bates Clark
“Riches: The saving of many in the hands of one.”                               – Eugene V. Debs
Those persons who comprise the independent classes are dependent upon two things: the industry of their fellow creatures; and injustice, which enables them to command it.      – Based on John Gray (A Lecture on Human Happiness, 1825)
“No rich man is ugly.”– Zsa Zsa Gabor  . . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/ (site feed URL: http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/atom.xml)

New Books and ARCs, 9/29/30

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 09/29/2017 - 16:33
Well, September went pretty quickly, didn’t it? To send it off, here’s a stack of new books and ARCs that have come to the Scalzi Compound. Tell me what speaks to you from this stack, down in the comments.

The Big Idea: Jon McGoran

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 09/29/2017 - 11:29
What’s the next step beyond gnarly tattooing? Jon McGoran has an idea, which makes up the central conceit of Spliced. But how he got there is another story entirely. JON McGORAN: I came up with the idea for Spliced while researching my book Dust Up, an adult thriller about biotech in big food and pharmaceuticals. […]
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